Sarah Vaughan

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sarah Vaughan 1946 (Photo: William P. Gottlieb )

Sarah Lois Vaughan (* 27. March 1924 in Newark , New Jersey ; † 3. April 1990 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American jazz - singer and pianist . Along with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, she is considered one of the most important vocalists in jazz.


Broad Street in downtown Newark

Childhood and youth

Sarah Vaughan's father, Asbury "Jake" Vaughan, was a carpenter and an amateur guitarist. Her mother Ada was a laundress and sang in the church choir. Jake and Ada Vaughan had moved from Virginia to Newark during World War I. Sarah was their only child. The Vaughans lived on Brunswick Street, where Sarah was from early childhood. Jake Vaughan was deeply religious and the family was active in the New Mount Zion Baptist Church , located at 186 Thomas Street . Sarah had piano lessons at the age of seven, sang in the church choir and occasionally played piano and organ at rehearsals.

Vaughan developed an early taste for popular music on records and on the radio. By the 1930s, Newark had a vibrant live music scene, and Vaughan regularly saw local and touring bands performing in the city. Although illegal because of her age, she began performing as a pianist and occasionally as a singer in Newark's nightclubs, such as the Piccadilly Club and Newark Airport with the USO .

Apollo Theater in Harlem

Vaughan first went to Newark's East Side High School , later she moved to Newark Arts High School , which opened in 1931 as the first arts high school in the United States. However, her nightly performances eventually resulted in her being kicked out of high school. During this time Sarah Vaughan and her friends visited New York to hear the big bands in Harlem playing in the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theater .

The biographer Leslie Gourse tells the complex story of her discovery: Vaughan always came to New York City with her friend Doris Robinson. One day in the fall of 1942, when Sarah was just 18 years old, she advised her friend to take part in a nightly amateur competition at the Apollo ; she accompanied Doris on the piano, who achieved second place. Sarah later decided to take the stage herself, this time as a singer; Vaughan sang the Standard Body and Soul and won. The profit, as Vaughan later told Marian McPartland , was $ 10 and a one-week commitment to the Apollo . In the spring of 1943 Sarah Vaughan finally appeared for the first time at the Apollo , where she stood in for Ella Fitzgerald .

During that week there was also singer Billy Eckstine , who was with Earl Hines at the time , in the audience ; he became aware of her talent and recommended her to Hines. He later boasted that he had discovered her and offered her the job as a pianist in his band. On April 4, 1943, he finally replaced his band singer with Sarah Vaughan.

With Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine (1943–1944)

Sarah Vaughan toured with the Earl Hines Big Band in late 1943 and early 1944 after her Apollo contract . Vaughan was hired as a pianist, but after Cliff Smalls joined the band as a trombonist and pianist, Sarah was the singer for the Hines band . Today it is considered a kind of start-up center for bebop , as well-known bebop musicians such as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker as well as trombonist Bennie Green played in it. Gillespie also arranged for the band; a general strike ( Recording ban ) prevented, however, that recordings of this formation were made.

Eckstine left the Hines band in late 1943 and formed his own big band with Gillespie, who left Hines to become the new band's musical director. Charlie Parker joined them, and the Eckstine Band was a hotbed of young jazz talent for the next few years: Miles Davis , Kenny Dorham , Art Blakey , Lucky Thompson , Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon played here.

Vaughan joined Eckstine's newly formed band in 1944; this gave her the opportunity to develop her style further. The first recordings were made with Eckstine's band; During a session on December 5, 1944, the song I'll Wait and Pray was written for the deluxe label. It was through this record that the critic and producer Leonard Feather became aware of her and asked if she would like to record four pages of records with him under her own name, which would then appear on the Continental label ; she was accompanied by a septet with u. a. Dizzy Gillespie and Georgie Auld . Allegedly the band pianist at the time, John Malachi , gave her the nickname "Sassy". In late 1944, Vaughan officially left the Eckstine band to begin a solo career, but remained connected to him and later recorded records with him.

Early solo career (1945–1948)

Sarah Vaughan in the Café Society in 1946
(Photo: William P. Gottlieb)

Sarah Vaughan began her solo career as a freelance singer in 1945 in New York jazz clubs on 52nd Street such as the Three Deuces , the Famous Door , the Downbeat and the Onyx Club . Vaughan also performed at the Braddock Grill , not far from the Apollo Theater in Harlem. On May 11, 1945, Vaughan Lover Man recorded for the small Guild label, accompanied by a quintet with Gillespie and Parker, pianist Al Haig , bassist Curly Russell and Sid Catlett on drums. Shortly thereafter, she went back to the studio with Gillespie / Parker and recorded another three tracks.

After a brief guest appearance in John Kirby's band and a recording with the violinist Stuff Smith , where the song Time and Again was composed in October, she was offered a recording contract with the Musicraft label. Until this contract took effect in 1946, she made records for the Crown and Gotham labels and performed regularly at Club Café Society Downtown, a club in Sheridan Square that had no racial barriers.

"I Cover the Waterfront": Shellac record on Musicraft

During her engagement at Cafe Society , Vaughan met the trumpeter George Treadwell . He eventually became Vaughan's manager, her musical director at numerous recording sessions, and took care of her appearance, including her wardrobe, her hairstyle and also the regulation of her teeth.

Many of her tracks, recorded for Musicraft in 1946 , were received positively by audiences and critics alike; these were If You Could See Me Now (which Tadd Dameron had written and arranged), Don't Blame Me , I've Got a Crush on You , Everything I Have is Yours and again Body and Soul . Vaughan and Treadwell finally married on September 16, 1946.

Vaughan's commercial success with Musicraft continued in 1947 and 1948; her rendition of Tenderly became an unexpected hit in late 1947 (# 27). The Jule Styne song It's Magic from the Doris Day film Romance on the High Seas , recorded on December 27, 1947, was even more successful ; he had great success in the pop charts in early 1948 and was in the charts for eleven weeks. Another hit of this time was Nature Boy (made April 8, 1948). The song Nature Boy , first recorded by Nat King Cole , was considered the first "crossover" track recorded by a black artist and successful with a white audience. Shortly after Ella Fitzgerald had also achieved success with the song, Frank Sinatra recorded it for Capitol , Sarah Vaughan and Dick Haymes for Decca .

Columbia Years (1948-1953)

After the bankruptcy of the Musicraft company , she got the opportunity to sign a contract with the big label Columbia Records ; in the summer of 1949 she had a chart success there with Black Coffee . During her years with Columbia until 1953, Vaughan recorded numerous commercial pop ballads such as That Lucky Old Sun , Make Believe (You Are Glad When You're Sorry) , I'm Crazy to Love You , Our Very Own , I Love the Guy , Thinking of You (with pianist Bud Powell ), I Cried for You , These Things I Offer You , Vanity , I Ran All the Way Home , Saint or Sinner , My Tormented Heart , Time and many others.

Nevertheless, she achieved great recognition among jazz critics; She won Esquire Magazine's New Star Award in 1947 , as well as Down Beat Magazine's best vocalist regularly from 1947 to 1952; likewise from Metronome Magazin from 1948 to 1953. However, some critics did not like her singing style and called it "over-stylized". Nevertheless, the overall tenor of the jazz criticism was largely positive. Her success with the critics and the audience was the reason for numerous malicious remarks by her “rival” Billie Holiday , who feared for her reputation as the “best jazz singer” at this time.

Linked to this success was the opportunity for numerous appearances and recording opportunities. In the summer of 1949 Vaughan appeared for the first time with a symphony orchestra; it was a charity event for the Philadelphia Orchestra under the motto "100 Men and a Girl". During this time she was also apostrophized by fans as "The Divine One", an addition that should accompany her through her further career. In 1951 she made her first tour of Europe.

The pressure to succeed and personal conflicts led to tension between Treadwell and Sarah Vaughan. Treadwell hired a road manager to take care of the singer's tours and opened a management office in Manhattan to work with artists other than Sarah Vaughan.

Vaughan's relationship with Columbia Records , despite its success, became increasingly unsatisfactory for the singer because, in her opinion, she was getting too much commercial song material. The 1950 session remained an exception, when they accompanied musicians such as Miles Davis , Tony Scott , Benny Green and Budd Johnson . The recordings like East of the Sun (and West of the Moon) or Ain't Misbehavin ' are among the best of their career, but remained atypical exceptions of their Columbia era.

Mercury Years (1954-1959)

In 1953, Treadwell negotiated a recording deal with Mercury Records . She was to publish commercial song material for the main label Mercury and more jazz-oriented songs on its sub-label EmArcy . Vaughan henceforth worked with the producer Bob Shad ; their cooperation was a financial as well as artistic success. Her first Mercury session took place in February 1954, her last in 1959. After a brief collaboration with Roulette Records (1960 to 1963), she returned to Mercury from 1964 to 1967 .

Count Basie (left) 1975

She performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in the summer of 1954 . Vaughan's great success at Mercury began with the hit Make Yourself Comfortable , which she recorded in the fall of 1954; other successes were How Important Can It Be (with Count Basie ), Whatever Lola Wants , The Banana Boat Song , You Ought to Have A Wife and Misty by Erroll Garner . In the fall of 1954, she performed at Carnegie Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra ; Also included were Billie Holiday , Charlie Parker , Lester Young and the Modern Jazz Quartet . Her album Sarah Vaughan (with Clifford Brown) , which was recorded in December 1954, is regarded by many jazz critics as the highlight of their artistic careers . On it is the title Lullaby of Birdland with one of their rare scat inlays. She then went on another successful European tour and then toured the United States in a concert program with Count Basie, George Shearing , Erroll Garner and Jimmy Rushing . In 1955 she made an appearance at the New York Jazz Festival on Randalls Island . In the second half of the 1950s, Sarah Vaughan recorded records accompanied by many well-known jazz musicians, around 1957 with Billy Eckstine again a series of duets, including the hit Passing Strangers . She went on tour with a trio in which alongside pianist Jimmy Jones Roy Haynes and Jimmy Cobb played, then in a trio with Ronnell Bright . Her album At Mr. Kelly’s from 1957 with Richard Davis and Roy Haynes is regarded as one of the most successful examples of her live performances . Her commercial success peaked in 1959 with the song Broken Hearted Melody , which grossed more than one million dollars and for which she received her first gold record . From then on it was part of the permanent repertoire of their concerts. Vaughan's commercial recordings have been made by various arrangers and orchestral conductors, such as Hugo Peretti and Hal Mooney .

Although the business relationship between Vaughan and Treadwell was successful in the 1950s, the singer divorced him in 1958 and then ended the business relationship.


After breaking up with Treadwell, Clyde "CB" Atkins joined Sarah Vaughan's life, whom she met in Chicago and whom she married on September 4, 1959. Although Atkins had no experience in artist management or in the music business, Vaughan wanted him to have a business and personal relationship like that of Treadwell. She made Atkins her manager; Vaughan and Atkins moved to Englewood Cliffs , New Jersey .

When her contract with Mercury Records ended in 1959, she signed with Roulette Records , a small label owned by Morris Levy , one of the co-owners of New York's Birdland jazz club , where she performed frequently. Roulette's catalog also included records by Count Basie, Joe Williams , Dinah Washington , Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Maynard Ferguson .

Vaughan began recording for roulette in April 1960 ; a number of albums were created, which were arranged or recorded by Billy May , Jimmy Jones , Joe Reisman , Quincy Jones , Benny Carter , Lalo Schifrin and Gerald Wilson and are regarded as merely jazz-influenced, ultimately commercial recordings. In 1960 she had a pop chart success with Serenata on Roulette , as well as her titles Eternally and You're My Baby, which were still recorded for Mercury .

In a small line-up (vocals, guitar, bass) she recorded some albums with jazz standards , such as After Hours (1961) with guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist George Duvivier . Cook and Morton rate the session as their best in the 1960s; Brian Priestley highlights Vaughan's definitive renditions of My Favorite Things and In a Sentimental Mood .

Since Sarah Vaughan could not have children of their own, the couple adopted a daughter, Debra Lois, in 1961. Relations with Atkins remained strained and ended in divorce in November 1963. With the help of friends like club owner John "Preacher" Wells and Clyde "Pumpkin" Golden Jr., she managed to cope with her financial situation during the breakup. Wells and Golden discovered that Atkins had embezzled their $ 150,000 fortune through gambling and donations. Vaughan received custody of the adopted child; Golden became her manager and partner for the rest of the decade.

At the time of her second divorce, she also separated from Roulette Records because the company did not pay her enough fees for her successful records. After the contract ended in 1963, Vaughan returned to Mercury Records . In the summer of 1963, Vaughan was in Denmark to make live recordings with producer Quincy Jones with her trio, released under the title Sassy Swings the Tivoli , which is an excellent example of their live shows from that period. The following year she appeared before President Johnson at the White House .

With the change in public taste in the mid-1960s, Sarah Vaughan, like many other jazz musicians, had to struggle with falling audience numbers at her concerts, which was also accompanied by unsuitable material. The quality of their records fluctuated; she tried to keep her head above water with pop and light music. During this time, her voice also darkened. At the end of her Mercury contract in 1967, she was without a record contract for the rest of the decade, but performed at European and American jazz festivals.

In 1969 Vaughan ended her relationship with Golden and settled on the west coast, near Benedict Canyon near Los Angeles , then in Hidden Hills .

Comeback in the 1970s

After an appearance at the casino in Las Vegas , she met Marshall Fisher; he now took on the familiar double role of Vaughan's partner and manager. Fisher had no experience in the entertainment industry either, but was a big fan of her and promoted her comeback from then on.

Vaughan continued to record in the 1970s. In 1971 she was asked by Bob Shad, who had worked with her as a producer at Mercury Records , if she would like to record an album for his own newly formed label Mainstream Records . Basie veteran Ernie Wilkins arranged and directed the session that produced the album A Time In My Life in November 1971. In April 1972 Vaughan recorded an album of ballads, written, arranged and directed by Michel Legrand . The album Live in Japan , which was nominated for a Grammy , was created in Tokyo in September 1973 with her trio .

In their sessions with Legrand, she mentioned the song Send In The Clowns on the Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway - musical A Little Night Music was composed. The song became her trademark from then on, replacing the previous title Tenderly , which had remained associated with her since the beginning of her solo career. Vaughan's collaboration with Mainstream ended in 1974 dispute. Again Vaughan was three years without a record contract. In December 1974 Vaughan performed at a private concert for President Gerald Ford and French President Giscard d'Estaing at their summits in Martinique .

Also in 1974 she took part in a Gershwin concert conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas , who conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl . The arrangements came from Marty Paich , Dave Grusin , Ray Brown and Shelly Manne also played in the backing band . After the success of the concert, Thomas and Vaughan repeated the performance in 1975 and 1976 with various symphony orchestras.

In 1977 Vaughan ended her business and personal relationships with Marshall Fisher. Vaughan began a relationship with Waymon Reed , a trumpeter who played in the Count Basie Band. Reed now played in their trio and was their musical director; In 1978 they married. In 1977 she was accompanied by the filmmaker and TV producer Tom Guy on her tour, interviewed numerous artists about the singer and recorded concert recordings and scenes behind the scenes. The result was the documentary Listen To The Sun , which premiered on New Jersey Public Television on September 21, 1978 , but never found distribution.

In 1977 she signed with Norman Granz , who was also Ella Fitzgerald's manager, a recording contract with his label Pablo Records . Vaughan had previously recorded an album with songs by the Beatles (1977) in pop arrangements for Atlantic after a three-year record break. Her contract with Pablo made important albums of her late work such as Love Brazil , which was recorded with Brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro in autumn 1977 and was nominated for a Grammy . In addition, How Long Has This Been Going On? (1978) with a quartet made up of Oscar Peterson , Joe Pass , Ray Brown and Louis Bellson ; two Duke Ellington Songbook albums (1979); Send in the Clowns (1981) with the Count Basie Orchestra, with arrangements mainly by Sammy Nestico ; finally the album Crazy and Mixed Up (1982), again with a quartet accompaniment with Sir Roland Hanna , Joe Pass, Andy Simpkins and Harold Jones . In 1981, Vaughan and Waymon Reed separated.

Late career

Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival

Sarah Vaughan remained active in the 1980s; numerous awards recognized her contribution to American music and her status as one of the most important jazz singers. In the summer of 1980 she received a plaque on 52nd Street on the facade of the CBS Building (Black Rock) to commemorate her and the jazz clubs in which she had often performed, which has since disappeared.

In 1980 she appeared again with the symphonic Gershwin program, accompanied by the New Jersey Symphony, and in 1981 she won the Emmy Award in the "Individual Achievement - Special Class" category. With Michael Tilson Thomas she recorded a modified version of the Gershwin program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which appeared on the album Gershwin Live! , with which Vaughan won the Grammy Award for best female jazz vocal performance. In 1985 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame . In 1988 she was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame . In 1989 she received the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship .

After her contract with the Pablo label expired in 1982, Sarah Vaughan made only a few studio recordings. She made a guest appearance at Barry Manilow's 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe , in 1984 she participated in the project The Planet is Alive, Let It Live , a symphonic piece by Tito Fontana and Sante Palumbo , based on Italian translations of poems by Karol Wojtyla, For the future Pope John Paul II. 1986 Sarah Vaughan sang two songs, Happy Talk and Bali Ha'i , in the role of Bloody Mary in a studio production of the Broadway musical South Pacific with opera stars like Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras .

Vaughan's last album was Brazilian Romance , produced and composed by Sérgio Mendes and written in New York and Detroit in early 1987. In 1988 Vaughan sang for an album of Christmas carols with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir , accompanied by the Utah Symphony Orchestra . In 1989 she made a brief guest appearance on Quincy Jones ' album Back on the Block when she scatted in a duet with Ella Fitzgerald . This was her last studio recording and also her only one with Fitzgerald in her career, which began 46 years earlier when she appeared for Ella Fitzgerald at the Apollo Theater .

End of life

Although Sarah Vaughan's health worsened during 1989, she continued to perform. Vaughan canceled several guest appearances in Europe that had been planned for 1989. Despite her arthritis in her hand, she still gave a number of concerts in Japan . She was diagnosed with lung cancer while playing at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club (she smoked two packs of cigarettes a day); these were her last public appearances.

Vaughan returned to her California home, began chemotherapy, and alternated between hospital and home for the final months. When her end was foreseeable, Vaughan wanted to stay at home, where she died on the evening of April 3, 1990, while she was watching a TV movie with her adopted daughter.

Vaughan's body was laid out in First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Newark; after the ceremony, a horse-drawn hearse brought the coffin to Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield, New Jersey .


Sarah Vaughan was married four times. Her husbands were jazz trumpeter and music manager George Treadwell , footballer Clyde Atkins, Marshall Fisher and trumpeter Waymon Reed .

Style and influence

Although Sarah Vaughan is commonly considered a jazz singer, she always avoided classifying herself as one. In fact, their jazz work and their more commercial pop material are not radically different. She didn't want to be tied down as a jazz singer either:

“I don't know why people call me a jazz singer, though I guess people associate me with jazz because I was raised in it, from way back. I'm not putting jazz down, but I'm not a jazz singer. Betty Carter is a jazz singer, because that's all she does. I've even been called a blues singer. I've recorded all kinds of music, but (to them) I'm either a jazz singer or a blues singer. I can't sing a blues - just a right-out blues - but I can put the blues in whatever I sing. I might sing 'Send In the Clowns' and I might stick a little bluesy part in it, or any song. What I want to do, music-wise, is all kinds of music that I like, and I like all kinds of music. "

“I don't know why people call me a jazz singer, but I suspect they put me in touch with jazz because I grew up with it from before. I don't want to do jazz badly, but I'm not a jazz singer. Betty Carter is a jazz singer because she always does it. I was also called a blues singer. I've recorded all kinds of music, but (for them) I'm either a jazz singer or a blues singer. I can't sing the blues - the blues so straight out - but I can bring the blues into everything I sing. I could sing 'Send In the Clowns' and put a bluesy part in it, or any other song. It's every kind of music I like that I want to do musically, and I like every kind of music. "

Leonard Feather described her abilities: “I recently heard a classical, a pop and a jazz singer. A soprano, a contra alto and a coloratura singer . A singer with the spontaneity of Ella Fitzgerald, with the soul of Aretha Franklin , the warmth of Peggy Lee and the flawless phrasing of Carmen McRae . They were all on the same show and they were all Sarah Vaughan ”. Kunzler sees her roots in the innovations of the bebop when she and her colleagues Gillespie and Parker took part in the harmonic, melodic and above all rhythmic innovations of the bop instrumentalists. For him she stands as an original talent in a row with Bessie Smith , Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Younger colleagues like Dee Dee Bridgewater or Flora Purim describe Vaughan and her instrumental approach as “exemplary, especially her rhythmic flexibility and sophistication. (...) ". Kunzler adds: "With perfect intonation even in wide-interval improvisation lines and breathtaking flexibility, this voice reached over three octaves from the alto to the highest soprano range."

One of their characteristics was the "swooping" glissando , a sliding down into their lowest vocal ranges . Vaughan always viewed her voice more as a melody instrument than as a vehicle for the dramatic interpretation of lyrics. Already in her childhood she was influenced by the popular music of the time as well as - by her deeply religious father - by the gospel traditions that she experienced in the Baptist church in which she grew up. Another early influence was her early boyfriend and mentor Billy Eckstine , who emerged in numerous duet recordings.


  • 1953: The Divine Sarah Vaughan - The Columbia Years 1949-1953 (Columbia)
  • 1954: Swingin 'Easy (EmArcy)
  • 1954: Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (EmArcy / Verve)
  • 1954: The Gershwin Songbook (Mercury)
  • 1954: My Funny Valentine with Richard Hayman's Orchestra
  • 1955: In the Land of Hi-Fi (EmArcy)
  • 1957: At Mister Kelly's [live] (EmArcy)
  • 1958: No Count Sarah (EmArcy)
  • 1963: Sarah Sings Soulfully (Roulette)
  • 1963: Sassy Swings the Tivoli [live] (EmArcy)
  • 1978: How Long Has This Been Going On? (Pablo)
  • 1978: Live at Rosy’s ( Resonance )
  • 1979: The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 1-2 (Pablo)
  • 1982: Crazy and Mixed Up (Pablo)



Web links

Commons : Sarah Vaughan  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Our History . The Newark Public Schools website
  2. ^ Ian Carr , Digby Fairweather , Brian Priestley : Rough Guide Jazz. The ultimate guide to jazz. 1800 bands and artists from the beginning until today. 2nd, expanded and updated edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2004, ISBN 3-476-01892-X , p. 661.
  3. According to Bright, she liked to hide the shoes of her fellow musicians before the performances, so that they also had to perform in socks once. See Bright interview by Marc Myers (2008)
  4. See biography (AllAboutJazz) ( Memento from January 6, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Ken Bloom: The American Songbook - The Singers, the Songwriters, and the Songs - 100 Years of American Popular Music - The Stories of the Creators and Performers . Black Dog & Leventhal, New York City 2005. According to Bloom, Atkins was a retired professional football player with an otherwise unknown past.
  6. ^ Sarah Vaughan in the Find a Grave database . Retrieved January 8, 2015.
  7. A Tribute To Sarah Vaughan. In: Archived from the original on March 29, 2012 ; accessed on March 27, 2019 (English).
  8. ^ Verve Jazz Masters 18: Sarah Vaughan.
  1. p. 1492 - "Never as popular as Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, and - some would say - better than either of them"
  2. p. 1492 - The album is given the highest grade plus an additional "crown"
  3. p. 1493
  1. a b p. 1218
  2. a b c d p. 1219
  3. a b p. 1217
  1. p. 345
  2. p. 506
  3. p. 498